The Bianconeri suffered a humiliating European exit at the hands of Villarreal on Wednesday, but their coach was defiant in defeat
Massimiliano Allegri was clearly annoyed, but nobody knew with whom.
When the full-time whistle blew at the end of Wednesday nights humiliating 3-0 loss at home to Villarreal, the Juventus coach immediately set off as if to remonstrate with someone.
He insisted afterwards, though, “I wasnt angry with anyone” – and there was certainly no adversary, official or external figure he could blame for his sides Champions League last-16 exit.
The referee had given Villarreal two penalties, but both were merited.
His players had performed reasonably well for 75 minutes and, as Juan Cuadrado pointed out, tried to do exactly what their boss had asked of them.
Villarreals negativity was unsurprisingly a source of frustration, but Allegri could hardly take issue with Unai Emerys tactics, given he has employed a painfully pragmatic approach all season long.
In the end, then, the Tuscan had nobody to lash out at other than the journalists who attended the post-match inquest.
Indeed, while Danilo was apologising to the supporters and Cuadrado was conceding Juve could have no excuses for such a shocking last-16 exit, their boss was in the press room accusing anyone trying to frame this as a “failure” of “intellectual dishonesty”.
He sounded like a man in denial, desperately reciting a page out of the Jose Mourinho playbook. This was Allegris “football heritage” moment.
The Juve coach was undoubtedly correct when he said that there are 10 better teams in the Champions League than the Bianconeri.
But the point is that Villarreal should not be one of them.
VILLARREAL BEAT JUVENTUS 3-0 IN TURIN TO KNOCK THEM OUT OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ???? pic.twitter.com/pWfj9axztH
The seventh-best team in La Liga, who hail from a town of 50,000 people, have never even featured in Deloittes Football Money League. Juventus have ranked 10th for the past two years.
Money is not everything in football, but it is not far off these days, so it is only right that the richest clubs are judged by higher standards.
And the fact is that the Bianconeri have been eliminated from the Champions League by teams with far smaller budgets for four consecutive seasons: Ajax, Lyon, Porto and now Villarreal.
Allegri essentially claimed that he was merely spitting truths on Wednesday night; that Juve need to realise that they are no longer among Europes elite.
Recent results have certainly hammered that home from a sporting perspective, but while early elimination may no longer come as a surprise, that does not make it any less shocking for a club of Juves resources.
A familiarity with failure does not make it forgivable. And adopting a small-club mentality at a footballing powerhouse like Juve is unacceptable.
This is not all on Allegri, of course. He may now be a part of the problem, but he is not the cause of this identity crisis.
As Claudio Marchisio said during his punditry duties on Amazon Prime, “One can talk of a Champions League curse for Juve if you lose finals.
“But if you go out in the last 16 three years in a row, its a more profound problem: of identity, of style, of players.”
Remember, Allegri wanted to overhaul the squad before being pushed out of the club in 2019.
It wasnt he who allowed transfer market maestro Beppe Marotta to leave for Inter.
It wasnt he who came up with the ill-advised Cristiano Ronaldo project.
And it wasnt he who oversaw the Portuguese forwards poorly timed departure.
Allegri feels as if he has done a good job in the circumstances; that there needs to be a reappraisal of where Juve are as a club right now.
There is some merit in that argument and he does still have his supporters.
Patrice Evra, for example, kept apologising for repeating himself during his appearance on Amazon Prime because he just could not get over how far the standard of the Juve squad had fallen since his time in Turin.
The former France full-back even went so far as to claim that Allegri is actually “working miracles”, given “there is no quality, especially in midfield.”
“We had Marchisio, [Arturo] Vidal, [Andrea] Pirlo, [Paul] Pogba,” Evra said. “Im sorry, I dont want to speak about the past again, but this is Juve.”
It was, maybe. But it is not anymore.
Juve have had a creative vacuum in midfield for many years now, and Arthur still does not look like the man to fill it.
Evra attacked the Brazilian for failing to switch the play once during the game, while Fabio Capello over on Sky Sport Italia wheeled out one of his preferred put-downs by once again accusing Arthur of “playing rugby”: just passing the ball side to side.
There were worse performers than the former Barcelona man, though.
Midfielder Adrien Rabiot was again “useless”, as the Gazzetta dello Sport put it in their match ratings, while defender Daniele Rugani sadly reminded everyone why he will always be a liability at this level by giving away the crucial first penalty.
Of course, it was unfair to single out any particular player after what was, and is, a collective failure – whether Allegri wants to accept it as such or not.
Villarreal represented yet another favourable draw for Juve, and they could not have benefited from a better start to the tie, with Dusan Vlahovic giving them the lead just over 30 seconds into the first leg at El Madrigal.
That they failed to add to their advantage over the 179 minutes that followed is a damning indictment of both the players and their coach.
Indeed, this cannot be passed off as anything other than an embarrassment. Last-16 elimination should not be par for the course for Juve. As Arrigo Sacchi pointed out, this was undeniably yet another step backwards for the Bianconeri.
Allegri may have inherited a lot of problems, problems which he foresaw three years ago, but he is not getting the best out of this squad and his side does not play anything like the kind of progressive football required at this level.
His conservative, catenaccio-like tactics have seen them scrape one narrow win after another in Serie A, but they were always going to be exposed in Europe.
“If theres no innovation, courage or intelligence, one cannot think of playing well,” Sacchi told the Gazzetta. “Juve were waiting for something from an individual or a mistake by their opponent.”
Instead, it was Juve who erred first, and then again and again, and it was difficult to have any sympathy for the club run by the man who is pushing so hard for a Super League.
This is a mess all of their own making and searching for salvation at the expense of other, supposedly lesser clubs, is winning them few friends.
Allegri was quick to point out that there is still much to play for this season. Juve are in the Coppa Italia semi-finals and occupy the fourth and final Champions League spot in Serie A.
He urged reporters on Wednesday night: “Wait before organising our funeral.” But this looks like a team, and indeed a club, in dire need of major surgery.
Juve were lucky enough to receive a major cash injection from parent company EXOR just before Christmas, which facilitated the €75 million signing of Vlahovic in January.
The thinking behind that mid-season gamble was that the risk would be worth the reward, with the former Fiorentina forward capable of adding a cutting edge to a blunt side, thus guaranteeing a place in next seasons Champions League.
That is now absolutely imperative, from both a sporting and financial perspective.
Juve simply will not be able to sign the players they need to improve the squad without the promise of Champions League football, and the prize money that comes with it. They are already at risk of losing star defender Matthijs de Ligt, as it is.